I take pride in being a strong woman – particularly because I came from one. My mother is the true definition of strength, courage and wisdom in a world where the word “Itchbay” is synonymous with the word “female” – and being bombarded with reality shows portraying women behaving badly doesn’t help.
But we know better. A strong woman has a voice, has a brain and has a heart. We cultivate self-worth, love hard, make mistakes and we learn from them. Our mamas taught us well! Here are ten things I learned from my mother about relationships, love and loving myself.
1. You are Beautiful and Brilliant
You are a gem. Every day, look yourself in the mirror and say, “you are beautiful, smart and special” – and then believe it…because it’s true. Own it. Breathe it. Live it. Once you believe it, no one will ever be able to make you feel ugly, stupid or insignificant. Believe you are gorgeous, even with all of your flaws. Anyone who tries to make you feel ugly hasn’t yet recognized the true beauty within themselves. Don’t be who you think you’re supposed to be – be who you are.
2. You Can Be Happy…ALONE.
Being miserable in a relationship doesn’t feel NEARLY as good as being happy alone. Some women are taught that they need a man at all times to complete them. Not true.
So many of us are so afraid of being by ourselves, we stick with a relationship that clearly isn’t working. We’re terrified of our own reflection – and don’t even enjoy our own company. Realize that a relationship with someone else doesn’t define your worth or make you more special than you already are. If someone doesn’t value or respect you, that’s their issue – not yours. You MATTER…so develop a love relationship with yourself that is unbreakable.
3. Respect Your Body
I remember being old enough to understand that smoking was bad for you. My mother smokes to this day, so it may seem that she has no room to tell me what to do to my body since she isn’t taking care of her own. But not all lessons are taught by example. Sometimes you learn what NOT to do from your parents by watching what their choices are doing to them. She would always tell me not to smoke, not to drink or abuse my body in any way. That includes drugs, sexual abuse or promiscuity, or allowing someone else to abuse me physically. Sometimes women can do devastating things to our bodies in the name of love, lust, grief or pain – but we have a choice. Be careful what you eat and be active. Use condoms. Get regular check-ups, and don’t abuse drugs and alcohol. Respect your body as a temple, because you only have one. Be kind to it.
4. Men Are Just…Different
Don’t always try to analyze or understand them. I know Steve Harvey would have you “thinking like a man, while acting like a lady” – but what it really comes down to is respecting the other person’s thoughts, opinions and experiences and accepting people for who they are. If you can’t handle his faults or love him for him, let him go. True love (and this goes for ANY relationship) means knowing who the other person is – their weaknesses, strengths, flaws, and potential…and loving them anyway. Yes, sometimes men can be thoughtless, insensitive, abrasive or aloof – but is that considered poor behavior? Is that abuse? We all have our list of pet peeves (like snoring or leaving the toilet seat up), but if he respects you, loves you unconditionally and has many other great traits, truly evaluate if your list of pet peeves are things you can live with while you admire all the great things about him.
5. It’s Okay to Cry
My mother can’t protect me from the world…or heartbreak. She tried, and it didn’t work. If you’ve ever been brave enough to love someone, you’ve had your heart-broken. But she told me it’s okay to cry. In the midst of a heartache, some women will try to be strong or fearless, especially in front of their girlfriends. But crying is an acknowledgment that something or someone has hurt you, and accepting it and releasing it takes courage and shows more strength than you can imagine. Free yourself and grab a Kleenex. It’s actually really okay.
Forgiveness is a choice – a decision you make that is just as much for yourself, if not more, as it is for the other person. For some people, forgiving someone else is actually easier than forgiving yourself – but you have to let it go, even when you don’t want to. You can forgive an ex, and even go on to become genuine friends later down the line if you choose, even if it seems impossible in the moment. But you have to set yourself free, because holding on to hurt forever only damages your spirit, and you’ll never be able to move on and love again. Forgiveness is for YOU, not anyone else.
7. Take Risks, in Life AND Love
We all want to please our parents, or get our friends’ and family’s approval when it comes to who we decide to love. But you’re not always going to get it – so live your life anyway. I’ve had friends advise me not to date a man who is shorter than me, who lives in another state, who has children or who is 10 years older than I am. And I ignored them all. Sure, not all of those relationships lasted, but just because a relationship doesn’t last forever doesn’t mean it didn’t work at the time, that is was a BAD relationship or a failure. Sometimes it just means it ran its course. Great love and great success require great risk. Every time you love someone and were loved in return, it was no mistake – and what you don’t learn from past relationships (or life experiences) will be taught to you again. Trust.
8. Falling in Love is Easy, STAYING in Love is Not.
We all want to believe in fairy tales, and romantic comedies were made for people like me who want to believe that my soul mate and I will jump into a cab at the same time, gaze into each other’s eyes and fall madly in love until death do us part. But it’s a bunch of bull. Being swept off your feet is a fleeting feeling, and there is no ONE soul mate for each of us in this world. You can love many people over a lifetime, and people grow, change and love over and over again. True love and intimacy takes a LONG time to grow and develop into something strong – and it takes WORK. Ironically, the stronger a relationship becomes, the more fragile it becomes as well, because one bad choice can destroy it…in the blink of an eye. Once you fall in love, work to stay there. Sure, you’ll have bad days; you’ll fight and disagree. It’s human nature. But be mindful to nurture your union, and protect it with your life.
9. When Someone Shows You Who They Are, Believe Them
My great-grandmother actually taught us this lesson, and I didn’t understand it at a very young age. But as I grew into a woman, it made perfect sense. Don’t try to change anyone into who you WANT them to be. Many times women get into relationships hoping to “fix” the man later. Or they think he’ll change his mind when he tells you that he isn’t interested in a relationship with you, or right now. We don’t believe what we’re being told, or we ignore the warning signs the other person is waving at us with flares and blinking lights. Don’t fall in love with who you THINK that person may be one day – because he may very well never become that person. Open your eyes, listen to what is being said to you and believe it.
10. Give Your All – in Life AND in Love
Being open and loving without reservation is very scary for some people to do, because we feel vulnerable leaving our hearts open to pain. But holding back only robs you of the true love you deserve. Besides, only giving a little bit of yourself means you’ll only be getting a little bit back. Sure, you may get hurt one day, no matter how much love was present or how much you gave. And just because we all want to be loved doesn’t mean the person we love knows how to love us back. But it’s okay. Don’t be afraid, because you’ll never have the love (or life) you want by being timid and fearful. Some of the greatest lessons and growth in life comes from failures, pain and heartache. But you get over it, and become stronger – so that when you DO meet the person who was sent for you, you’ll have taken all those life lessons and applied them to make the RIGHT relationship stronger. Like I said, loving is never a mistake…and loving someone else doesn’t make them a better person, it makes YOU a better person.